Whether it’s the Adidas Olympics, the lazy brand leveraging notions, the mobile space, even the Costa Book Prize, over the last decade we’ve become used to the venues and events living in symbiosis with the corporate giants. Many of these relationships have been mutually beneficial, allowing for the growth and survival of one party, whilst providing advertising, sales, and moral kudos for the other. Few, however managed to leverage love.
The problem comes when brands try to recreate this somewhat organic mechanism out of the other, with sponsored award ceremonies, festival hospitality media and D-list kettling areas letting off puffed-up hot air and hype.The public are wisening up to it.
Whilst we may not begrudge a brand’s advertising if it has saved a cherished venue or funded up-and-coming talent, the call for authenticity is growing ever louder in the Age of Transparency. We can even see it in our architecture, with blocks of concrete increasingly being swapped for panes of glass. As communication avenues have opened up between brands and the public, so the public’s need for real, dialectic interactions has grown.
We are growing increasingly weary of brands that are overly concerned with ensuring that they are “on message”. We are blind to advertorial and increasingly deaf to the toeing of Party lines. The apex of such behaviour was reached in 2011 when Ed Miliband was reduced to repetitive absurdity in an interview with the BBC in response to public sector strike action. The crisis response of some companies and public bodies has become so cautious and automated that the public have started to feel alienated and distrusting of them.
The cry for such authenticity has resonated through the media over the last couple of weeks. From Russell Brand’s scathing critique of the power structures behind the GQ Awards and their invented accolades, to American novelist, Jonathan Franzen’s outrage at the peddling of false reviews in Amazon’s attempts to engulf the publishing industry.
Brand shone a light on the political relationship cultivation that happens at your typical sponsored schmooze-and-booze, asking if it is “any wonder that Amazon, Vodafone and Starbucks avoid paying tax when they enjoy such cosy relationships with members of our government?”
While Franzen reminded us of the bitter battle between quality and quantity today: “The work of yakkers and tweeters and braggers, and of people with the money to pay somebody to churn out hundreds of five-star reviews for them, will flourish in that world. But what happens to the people who became writers because yakking and tweeting and bragging felt to them like intolerably shallow forms of social engagement?”
The problem, to my mind, seems to be the disconnection between the numerous “creatives” in our ever-growing “creative” sector, and creativity itself. True creativity, the kind that inspires our minds and stirs our hearts, requires space, purpose and originality. Sir Ken Robinson, defines creativity quite simply as “the process of having original ideas that have value”, and it is to this principle to which we need to return.
The most memorable campaigns of the last century have been those which have picked up on the zeitgeist of the era, subverting stereotypes (think of the ladies of the Lucky Strike Liberation Front), stirring our sentimentality (think Yellow Pages 1992) and imagining the impossible (think Red Bull Stratos 2012). Now more than ever, brands need to challenge and inspire, and to realise when protectionism and toeing the Party line can be damaging.